South Africa is the 9th largest producer of wine in the world with traditions that are a hybrid of Old World and New World. A short while ago, The Washington Post declared South African wines to be the next big trend. And they are right – with the advent of new winemaking practices, South Africa is currently producing some of the best-valued red and white wines on the market.
A Brief History
The history of South African winemaking dates back to 1659 to the Dutch East India Company’s supply station in Cape Town. There, settlers planted wine grapes to quench the thirst of sailors and to prevent scurvy. It wasn’t until the mid-1700’s that there was a concerted effort to improve vineyards and practices, which resulted in the production of Constantia, a desert wine that was in demand until the mid-1800’s. It was around the mid-1800’s that phylloxera reared its ugly head and destroyed most of the vineyards.
Recovering slowly in the 20th century, the South African wine industry received little fanfare – most of the wine produced was directly distilled into brandy and there was boycotting of the country’s products in protest of the Apartheid system.
Then in the 1990’s, the industry experienced a renaissance, with winemakers adopting new winemaking technologies. Flying winemakers brought with them international influences and focuses on well-known varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.
Top Red Wines
Cabernet Sauvignon – Savory and complex, imagine black pepper, and bell pepper rounded out with currant, blackberry, and plum
Syrah – Dark spiced fruit flavors with a chocolate-like richness
Pinotage (exclusive to South Africa) – A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, it has raspberry to blueberry fruit flavors spiced with chocolate and tobacco
Merlot – widely used a blending grape with Cabernet Sauvignon
Top White Wines
Chenin Blanc – Most planted variety in the country. Peachy and floral, not unlike Pinot Gris, except a little more dry on the palate.
Colombard – Used in many Chenin Blanc blends, also a large amount goes into brandy
Sauvignon Blanc – Similar to the New Zealand variety, as it is zesty and grassy. However, it generally runs cheaper.